Monday, September 13, 2004


Palestinian Schoolbooks

Akiva Eldar has an article about Palestinian schoolbooks in Ha'aretz (Reading, Writing - and Propaganda) that is worth reading considering, as Eldar points out: "The books the children carried in the schoolbags are not only material on history and civics, mathematics and computers; in recent years those books have become hot merchandise in the propaganda war against the Palestinian Authority." Eldar probes into the reports issued each year by the Israeli Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry on Palestinian schoolbooks, as well as studies on the books undertaken by the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP). The general findings seem to be that, although the Israeli reports continue to stress "incitement" and "vilification" in the Palestinian schoolbooks and tried to cut off funding for the books from the World Bank and EU donor nations, there have actually been marked improvements in the books produced by the PA.
"Quotations attributed by earlier CMIP reports to the Palestinian textbooks," says a Middle East Working Group of the EU, "are not found in the new PA schoolbooks funded by some EU member states; some were traced to the old Egyptian and Jordanian textbooks that they are replacing, ... and others [were] not traced at all." Moreover, the EU study finds that many of the quotations "have been found to be often badly translated or quoted out of context, thus suggesting an anti-Jewish bias or incitement that the books do not contain ... New textbooks, though not perfect, are free of inciteful content ... constituting a valuable contribution to the education of young Palestinians."
Indeed, while the Egyptian and Jordanian books continue to present the most problems, Israel actively seeks to end funding of Palestinian books.
Prof. Nathan Brown, from George Washington University, a former adviser to the U.S. Agency for International Development, noted an odd phenomenon in his study of the Palestinian curriculum (November 2001). He found that even though the PA's National Education books for grades 1-6 were "devoid of any anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli material," Israel "allowed the offensive Jordanian books to be used in the East Jerusalem schools but barred the innocuous PA-authored books, probably fearful that use of the PA books would be an implicit recognition of sovereignty."
It seems to me that Israel is losing more than it gains with these political ploys. While the most detrimental education that Palestinian children get about Israel is from checkpoints, armed settlers, home demolitions, and IDF incursions, the textbook issue is not inconsequential. Israel (as well as the Palestinian Authority, the donor nations, the World Bank, etc.) should be most interested in providing books free of "incitement" and "vilification", not using the schoolbook issue as a means of vilification itself.

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